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literature review in a wiki
Patricia Arnold1, John D. Smith2, Beverly Trayner3
University of Applied Sciences Munich, Germany; 2Learning Alliances & CPsquare, USA; 3Escola Superior de Ciências Empresariais, Setúbal, Portugal email@example.com; john.smith@LearningAlliances.net; firstname.lastname@example.org
This paper focuses on the intricate relationship of narrative, community memory and technologies, presenting a literature review on these concepts and their mutual connectedness, using Wenger’s social theory of situated learning. The paper is only one part of our submission for the CIRN conference. The other part is a wiki (http://pratonarrative.wikispaces.com) that can be downloaded and transformed in a static version at a given time, for example for review purposes. However, it is also open for contributions and change on an ongoing basis by the authors, the audience and the reviewers alike. We argue that this dual mode submission is an appropriate presentation of our research inquiry and reflects its results. In addition, this paper contains a personal narrative of the process of creating both the paper and the wiki and a reflection on our collaborative practice in doing so. Thus this paper uses autoethnography as the underlying research method. Our aim is to shed some light on the entangled relations of the concepts of memory, narrative and technologies that can possibly inform further design practice of technology supported communities and their learning.
Initial steps: Please read carefully
This conference paper purposefully crosses genre boundaries and fulfils multiple functions: first of all, it is not a self-contained entity. Quite the contrary, it is inseparably linked to our wiki at http://pratonarrative.wikispaces.com. On one level the paper serves as a manual on how to engage with a literature review on narrative, community memory and technologies that, instead of being presented as a static linear text with a clear academic lineage, has emerged as a collaboratively constructed hypermedia text. The wiki, located online, provides a space for adding to and editing community memory and as such invites our audience to interact and contribute on an ongoing basis. With this wiki we are striving to foster community and the construction of memory amongst researchers and practitioners who share an interest in narrative, community memory and technologies. At a second level this conference paper tells the story of a transformation process, which began as a project to write a ready-to-print literature review for a conference and also became a collaborative
wiki that allows ongoing dialogue with an interested audience. This way the paper is just one way of telling our research story, with the wiki being a second way. Both these ways allow for different readings of our research quest. Our primary research method is autoethnography, as for example promoted and described by Carolyn Ellis (2004), Catherine Russell (1999) or Arthur P. Bochner and Carolyn Ellis (2002). Autoethnography, located at the boundaries of scientific research, is an emergent ethnographic writing practice involving highly personalized accounts that feature dialogue, emotion and selfconsciousness to extend understanding (Bochner & Ellis, 2002). Such an experimental form of qualitative writing blurs boundaries between personal accounts and social sciences. It acts as “a vehicle and a strategy for challenging imposed forms of identity and exploring the discursive possibilities of [...] subjectivities” (Russell, 1999:1). The autoethnographic narrative in this conference paper and the accompanying wiki cut across existing genre types. This is done intentionally, to bridge various gaps. In the first place, it aims to bridge the gap between the established practice of writing an academic paper and our attempt to “walk the talk” by developing new practices for remembering and forgetting in communities that are supported by collaborative web2.0 technologies. Secondly, it closes at least some of the gap between a traditional hierarchically categorized literature review and an emerging multi-layered, multi-tagged web of references as a way of remembering in (research) communities. Thirdly, it attempts to narrow the gap between finely dissected academic research disciplines and a multi-perspective, multidisciplinary research inquiry, from a “multiliteracies” (Bill Cope & Mary Kalantzis 2000) point of view that acknowledges an allegiance to practice.
The Cast of Characters: Beverly, John, Patricia and a sofa with wi-fi …
The three of them get ready for the 9 pm Skype call. Patricia is in Munich, Germany, where she works at a Munich Higher Education Institute – 800 kilometers from home. She thinks of her husband at home helping her son with his homework and doing the dinner and family chores. John is in Portland, USA, recovering from a weekend Buddhist meditation program that he and his wife helped organize. Self-employed, John has managed to have lunch and a catnap after a long morning coaxing participants in an online workshop on communities of practice into taking on new social
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roles. Beverly, in Setúbal, Portugal, closes the dinner conversation with her son and curls up on her sofa – where she connects to the Internet through wi-fi – picking up her headphones on the way. When she is not lecturing at a local business school she works on a Mac that sits on the wide arm of her sofa in the living room. They speak in English, Beverly and John’s first language, while Patricia’s first language is German. Beverly is bilingual in Portuguese and John is bilingual in Spanish. Sometimes the Skype calls are rushed – cut short by one person’s commitment to some other project. Other times they enjoy the luxury of extended discussions about what they are reading, about the trials and tribulations at work and about their many other projects. They also share stories about parallel online collaborations and people they know in common. Patricia and Beverly, at different times, had participated in the workshop on Communities of Practice run by John and Etienne Wenger and others. Years ago, when they had only met online, John had helped Patricia convert hundreds of emails from one format into another that would form the text corpus for her dissertation about a selforganizing community of students at a distance education institution – a real-time help that would often cause his PC operating system to crash. John and Beverly had continued a conversation after the Foundations Workshop in 2001 and brought together a group of nearly thirty people from nine different countries in the Setúbal Dialogue to talk about their work with communities of practice in 2002. Patricia was one of them. With a very loose agenda, sharing the cooking and washing up, barefoot and under the sun, people from different academic disciplines and different professional practices were curious to explore what they had in common. A more formal presentation at the Business School where Beverly worked helped to cover some of the costs. Most of the people present at this formal event, though, were not aware that the person who helped arrange the furniture before the event and who then gave a presentation was seminal writer, Etienne Wenger. Patricia, John and Beverly continued to explore their shared interest in designing for learning in virtual settings, in the role of narrative and context in these settings, and in the use of a community of practice perspective as an orientation for design. They had written several different papers in pairs leading to a project with the three of them: a chapter for a book about context in virtual settings. Coincidentally the editor of the book was Portuguese and had attended the formal presentation at the end of the Setúbal Dialogue. His presence at the presentation attracted attention at the School as he is a well-known academic in the area of information systems in Portuguese Higher Education. This was no mean achievement as Beverly’s doctorate and research area had been deemed “irrelevant” by the
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Scientific Committee at her School. Investigating participation in distributed communities did not square with her discipline area of “Línguas,” a first degree in Business Studies and a Masters in Development. Patricia understood Beverly’s angst as her own research was also not easy to categorize. Patricia had felt an enormous relief at the Dialogue in 2002 when she found herself relating to the latticed interests of participants from different academic and professional areas. Her doctorate in Education shared a domain and methodologies with Dialogue participants that did not fit tidily into the expectations of her University. Working in the gaps between disciplines was second nature for John since he had started work in the workshop on Communities of Practice and left his life as a technologist at a University in the States. He had spent years trying to develop an approach to consulting that did not contradict the communities of practice view of learning that they had all been exploring. Over the years their shared or connected research and writing projects, related to communities of practice and carried out through different types of media, had taken on a greater significance than that of their regular jobs. They had developed a sense of accountability to a community of practitioners and academics who came from areas as diverse as education, business, government and non-government organizations, and with whom they shared stories. This had taken on a bigger importance than they might have anticipated. In the four years since they had first met face-to-face their conversations about a shared practice had fed their individual aspirations and made them more ambitious in their day-to-day work. A combination of uncertain work at the University where she worked and family reasons had led Patricia to leave academic life and take up a job in Human Resource Management, where she could stay close to home. She then moved back into academia at the cost of commuting and staying some nights away from home. John and Beverly had coached her on some of her interviews. Patricia and John had listened to Beverly’s tears of frustration about her institution and supported her decision to take on more private work for European and government funded projects related to communities of practice and new technologies. John felt grateful to Bev and Patricia who listened as he tried out his first articulations of another wild idea which stimulated and then became part of their shared repertoire. However, all these changes meant that they were doing double the amount of work in terms of managing different family and job expectations and commuting, while it did not correspond to doubling their remuneration. And the Skype calls became more difficult to schedule. How-to read these characters:
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The characters of Patricia, John and Beverly are those of three people struggling in a post-traditional order of modernity, reflexively organizing their self-identity. They are characters whose life choices leave them standing on the frontier of academic and professional life, straddling academic boundaries, and navigating their way through cultural ones. Self-identity as a “reflexively organized endeavour” (Giddens, 1991:5) as well as issues of fragmentation and dispersal of self-identity, are analyzed and written about by sociological thinkers of our time, like Anthony Giddens and Manuel Castells.
“In high modernity, the influence of distant happenings on proximate events, and on intimacies of the self, becomes more and more commonplace…Mediated experience … has long influenced both self-identity and the basic organization of social relations… It is in many ways a single world, having a unitary framework of experience (for instance, in respect of basic axes of time and space), yet at the same time one which creates new forms of fragmentation and dispersal.” (Giddens, 1991:4-5)
Michael Foucault’s formulation of the “specific intellectual” as opposed to the “universal intellectual” (1980:126) makes it possible for these characters to “develop lateral connections across different forms of knowledge and from one focus of politicization to another”. (ibid.:127). John, Patricia and Bev draw meaning from their distributed community and practices in a way that significantly affects their identity in all other parts of their lives. In his first volume "The Rise of the Network Society" (1996) Castells discusses this identity in the context of globalisation and the networked society:
In a world of global flows of wealth, power, and images, the search for identity, collective or individual, ascribed or constructed, becomes the fundamental source of social meaning. This is not a new trend since identity, and particularly relations and ethnic identity, have been at the roots of meaning since the dawn of human society. Yet identity is becoming the main, and sometimes the only, source of meaning in a historical period characterised by widespread destructuring of organisations, delegitimisation of institutions, fading away of major social movements and ephemeral cultural expressions. People increasingly organise their meaning not around what they do but on the basis of what they are. (1996:3)
An ongoing thread in their Skype conversations is related to (re-)defining what they are in their dayto-day lives and the discordance between identities conferred by their employers, nationality or even families. In this situation, they find solace in their “niche” community, a nonterritorial one; a juxtaposition of different professional and academic practices; one which breaks with traditional time; it is a community that both encompasses and isolates them at the same time. Foucault refers to
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this type of niche community as a heterotopia (1994: 178 – 185) which he compares to a sailing vessel “par exellence”. Authors, such as Ronald Deibert, go further in displacing the global-village narrative and describe a landscape that is dynamic, unstable, and peopled by individuals and groups who form and reform according to multiply defined identities (1996:199). Celebrating the dynamic capacity of transgressive identities that are generated within and through literacy practices on the Web, Deibert provides a vision of the postmodern character of the Web. He describes it as:
the postmodern sense of juxtaposition and superimpostion, and nonlinear, pastiche-like orderings of space as characterized by Foucault’s notion of ‘heterotopia…’ And the recognition of ‘difference’ and hyperplurality … suggest that the emerging architecture of world order is moving … toward nonlinear, multiperspectival, overlapping layers of political authority. Likewise, modern mass identities centered on the ‘nation’ are being dispersed into multiple, nonterritorial ‘niche’ communities and fragmented identities (1996:201)
The setting: a community of practice as context and platform
In a sense the community is another character in our story. Since it is an unusual kind of character, we should introduce it now. At this point we change voice from referring to John, Beverly, and Patricia as “them,” to talking about ourselves as “us”. In some ways what has been said already about us as individuals has a corresponding meaning from a community of practice perspective: the formation of the “we”. The community of practice to which we all belong is an essential aspect of our experience, a resource on which we draw as well as one which we seek to develop further. As a character in our story, our community of practice may be somewhat like the Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”, materializing to ask important questions and then disappearing. 1 In our work we have always had to contend with the fact that we are dispersed around the globe, living in different time zones. Since we first met in the Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop, we have always relied on information and communication technologies to be together. When we first began organizing the Setúbal Dialogue in 2002, the cost of calling the USA from Portugal made it inconceivable that we would ever be able to just talk to each other. John’s discovery that we could use Yahoo! Messenger’s voice over IP to call Portugal for around 14 cents a minute opened up a new world, although it was limited to calls between John and Beverly. Later we found that calls between the US and
You might consider going back and reading our story from the beginning to notice the community smile that shows through the individual details.
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Germany were very inexpensive compared to those to Portugal. Eventually, we found that we could use Skype for conference calls that were limited only by the stability of the software and the amount of time we had for the conversation. As synchronous communication has become more widespread and less expensive, we have developed conventions for calculating meeting times, negotiating the time for our next meeting in “Bev’s time”, which is the time in London or Lisbon. It seems only fitting that we have come to see her sofa as the center of our community, if not of the universe. Its mediated presence through images on “flickr1.com” and on our wiki, to be seen each time we worked at our research project, also helped to make it part of other peoples’ lives in Munich and Portland, respectively. At our Setúbal Dialogue it was striking to find that learning and its attendant social issues raised so many questions of intimacy, language, methodology, authority, and intention. The fact that the whole experience was a transformative one for some people – and a less remarkable one for others – led to an inquiry about “Phase change” at the “Communities & Technologies Conference” in Amsterdam a year later. At that conference, John and Patricia presented their work about the loss of context in online learning. Beverly presented an article about negotiating meaning in a multi-lingual experiment in CPsquare2. As we wrote in pairs and all together, we focused more on narrative and technologies, touching on literary criticism, genre theory, social change, improvisation, conversation theory, and, of course, technologies. Collectively, we have become focused on the design of points of contact (Roy McDermott, 1993) for people in communities of practice and in formally organized educational settings that use technology to bridge time and space. However, the design of those points of contact also touches on adjoining issues such as the organization and configuration of technologies and the tension between the authority of a formal structure and the emergent practices of social learning. Our quest is how to design in ways that honor these emergent practices while at the same time challenging and respecting the memory of an established order. Developing our own community and evolving its repertoire has been an important kind of learning for us. At the same time it is a process of creating community memory. As we practice using various technologies to think together, new practices evolve and become something on which we depend. These practices are collectively developed, used, and, when necessary, repaired. For example, when we have a Skype conference call, we use Skype’s chat to check that everyone is ready for the call as well as to jointly take notes as we talk. We have developed a convention that whoever is speaking does not take
http://www.flickr.com/, an online photo management and sharing application CPsquare is “the community of practice on communities of practice” at http://www.cpsquare.org
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notes; one of the other participants in the conversation transcribes the words, the main ideas, or at least the topic of conversation. The Skype text chat is also useful for recovering when someone gets inadvertently dropped from a Skype conference call. After the call, the extraneous information is stripped from the chat transcript, which is emailed, with a distinctive subject line, to everyone after the meeting and with a summary of “next steps.” It is an unfamiliar kind of reading because each line is labeled with a person’s name, but, contrary to convention, the name is that of the person or people who were taking notes and not of the person who was talking. Who is talking is less important that what is said and it is these notes that have become an essential way of capturing the essence of our thinking together. But no practice is without its variants or occasional errors. Recently, Beverly set out to write up some ideas we had explored in a Skype conference call, but she was unable to find the right ones. John’s search in his email files and in the project directory turned up several possibilities but not the one she was looking for. A day later, Patricia found the correct transcript on her computer in Hamburg. The fact that most of the email correspondence about this mishap has since been deleted on all our computers is a reminder that the practice and attendant error-correction routines are completely taken for granted. At the same time this episode of “the lost notes” became a turning point in our choice of technologies to support our practices (cf. Section 3). Our methods of inquiry have also evolved. John was writing a learning history in 1996-97 using qualitative methods developed at MIT’s Center for Organizational Learning, before becoming involved in communities of practice as a framework. Around the Setúbal Dialogue, all of us became convinced that getting at the crucial issues of identity, membership, and the negotiation of meaning required methods that brought the observer and the observed closer together, or even made those roles overlap. For example, in the papers we presented at the “Communities & Technologies Conference” in Amsterdam, we reflected on online events where we had several roles, ranging from sponsors to designers to speakers to participants. During the writing of this paper, Beverly, who is using narrative inquiry for her doctorate thesis, introduced the work on autoethnography of Carolyn Ellis (2004), which was quickly taken up by Patricia, eventually by John, and now forms a central methodological reference point for us. In her blog, Beverly had originally attributed her attention to this book to a conversation with Lilia Efimova at another event we organized in Amsterdam. Efimova in turn pointed out in her blog
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that she had not read the particular book we are using but also got drawn into autoethnography as an alternative qualitative method1. So the methodological community extends beyond just the three of us2.
How to read this description of the setting:
Such a perspective [on the interaction between participation and reification] has pedagogical implications for teaching complex knowledge: an excessive emphasis on formalism without corresponding levels of participation, or conversely a neglect of explanations and formal structure, can easily result in an experience of meaninglessness. (Wenger 1998:67).
This experience has been, above all, a meaningful one. Although we each experience our learning and our memory individually, our collective action is oriented toward the design of new points of contact, both social and technical, that combine participation and reification in new and useful ways. Among other things we purposefully try to expose the differences in our recollections and interpretations. The result is an expansion of knowledge and of memory that is produced and held collectively. The way Wenger (1998) uses these terms, participation, or taking part in something and relating, and reification, as a way of giving form to our experience, are a duality through which we make meaning. They are distinct and complementary and neither one exists without the other. From this perspective, each of the different technologies that we have used over the years are seen as part of an evolving repertoire in our practice and part of this ongoing duality of making meaning. The technologies, and the uses of them in this ongoing process of participation and reification, can also be seen as different styles of creating community memory. It is a fundamental paradox of a distributed community of practice that we experience meaning both individually and collectively at the same time. This raises a host of issues that we continue to explore. The “lost notes” episode described in detail below illustrates how thinking, technology, and ensemble improvisation play a part in the production and management of community memory. What are the implications of this setting for our methodology? Two quotes from Ellis (2004) are worth observing here. To us, the first suggests that writing about communities of practice, with the fundamental concerns about participation, identity, and meaning-making, can lean on an autoethnographic approach for methodological support:
“What is autoethnography?” you might ask. My brief answer: research, writing, story, and method that connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social and political. (Ellis, 2004, p. xix)
http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2006/06/18.html#a1781 Cf. For example http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2006/06/30.html#a1790
The second quote is more problematic, in that it seems to equate a book and a community. A book can contribute to the development of a community, but Wenger’s framework has made us extremely sensitive to the nuances of difference between reification and participation. Ellis tells us:
I write this book for those interested in autoethnography, who want to incorporate the ‘I’ into their research, writing and teaching. Graduate students and untenured professors too often are unable to find a supportive community at their universities for doing autoethnographic research. This book offers that community. (Ellis 2004: xx)
Bearing in mind the duality of reification and participation, Ellis’ words constitute a reification of a specific methodological domain, in this case, autoethnography. Those interested in the domain of autoethnography can refer to the book in their papers. In so doing they participate in, help shape and are shaped by a community, its genres and discourse and its research practice.
The challenge and the action taken: writing a literature review in a fragmented world …
It was in this situation the Community Informatics Research Network announced their annual conference – the call for papers focused on “Constructing and sharing memory: community informatics, identity and empowerment”. We take up the challenge. The conference theme seems to pick up a series of loose ends in our work. Memory and community are directly linked to narrative in our minds and an initial Skype conference was initiated to draft an abstract of a new joint research endeavor. Personal and professional time constraints were forgotten. Our idea was to do a literature review on memory, community and technologies from a community of practice perspective. However, what sounded straightforward at the beginning quickly became a daunting project; the vast literature about memory, narrative and community, found in quite different domains and disciplines, was overwhelming. How to connect the concepts in a way that would best focus and enlighten our search? Our conversations become ever more far-ranging as we move between periods of history, authors, approaches and the technologies we are using. At no stage do we start writing a paper in an MS-Word document as we have always done before. It feels too premature. When we come together we listen to each other making sense of the literature and it feels that an overall structure is starting to emerge. In the meantime our reading and conversations start distracting us from other projects and family commitments, while nothing gets done on the paper. We ask for a month’s extension of the deadline.
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There are so many fragments of conversations and ideas and the beginnings of structures to follow up. Each fragment is a reminder of a paper to be written, forgotten and remembered again between Skype conversations. Each Skype conversation becomes an engagement in a community in which our families and our everyday work places are not involved. Each fragment and each Skype conversation, unrelated to geography and at different times of our different days, become a weaving together of our individual identities into a bigger story, with the bigger story shaping our individual and shared identities. At the same time we experiment with technologies to support us. We begin our project with conversations and note-taking on Skype, as we have done with previous papers. We discuss the structure, assign tasks and feel enthusiastic, if a little pressed for time. We need the discipline of regular phone calls because the deadlines are a commitment to have something done. We open a space on CPsquare’s Web Crossing1 platform which is the place we have always used for preparing papers and working together. Soon it becomes evident that our old practice is not supporting us enough in not forgetting our current discussions and results. Each fragment is recorded in documents and stored on our individual computers and in our virtual collaboration space on Web Crossing. Retrieving it has to deal with idiosyncratic storage practices, since Web Crossing’s RSS feeds are problematic because of password issues. The more our discussions intensify and cover a wider range of authors, disciplines and periods of history, the more we ask ourselves: Are we using the right tools in supporting our ambitious plans? Have we created accessible and retrievable “memories of understanding” for all three of us when everybody has their own way of storing the Skype notes, documents and links? The “lost notes” episode clearly shows that our practices are no longer adequate. In this debate, Beverly argues for using Web 2.0 technologies, to enhance our technological practice. She is advanced in using these technologies for her other professional projects and her private life. She frequently asks herself what constitutes her identity, sitting on her sofa to relax, having wi-fi to upload photos to “flickr” or read her RSS feeds2 of the various blogs, tagging activity and virtual collaboration spaces to which she has subscribed. The distinction between connecting with work and with friends and relatives living apart in other countries seems to blur. So with this background Bev wants us to share our files in eSnips3, a technology for storing files that allows for tagging, and to use a social bookmarking tool like del.icio.us4 to share our bookmarks. Anything that is tagged “pratonarrative” will not only come to Bev’s sofa, but
http://webcrossing.com RSS feeds are a way to get automatically updated content form news sites or blogs etc. one has subscribed to 3 http://www.esnips.com 4 http://del.icio.us/
also shows up on John’s desk and Patricia’s various computers. Forget about sending e-mails with attachments that will need individual idiosyncratic filing or separate strategies to remember what our latest discussions were about. Patricia, on the other hand, is curious to get familiar with all these new social software1 tools but freaks out at the time she will need to invest to get to the point where all of these run smoothly on the various machines she uses. Considering that she presently has not got printer and Internet at the same office, the logistics of how to get a printed version to take on the train-ride for the next round of working on the literature review seem yet a new barrier. John sits in between, with an inclination and patience to test all new tools, Internet and printer in one place and on one machine. A heavy workload and responsibility to administer a Web Crossing server takes enough of the time budget to experiment with latest software tools. But yes, he is open for reaching a new frontier, so gradually we adopt new practices and try to use the underlying tension to find out which are the right technologies to support us. We agree on shared tags to use in del.icio.us, to share relevant links. We open a space in eSnips to store our documents, especially the Skype notes, with tags. With shared bookmarks in del.icio.us and tags in eSnips, the reasoning goes, we will be able to make the connections between our widening interests. That almost gives us a license for many strands of thinking. Web Crossing has indeed become too linear and too closed to contain our reviews and reflections. How does our literature review proceed now that we have tagging and we aggregate feeds? We now have a lot of different virtual spaces where we can upload our notes and links; we automatically get notified about changes. But no, our literature review still gains no feasible structure. Our fragmented notes about the literature seem to get even more fuzzy and blurred than before. Have we split our partial attention onto too many different tools? “Well, let’s cut down on tech talk and go into our content” becomes a routine interjection on our weekly conference calls after twenty minutes have quickly gone by. Identity crisis attacks. It is aggravated when Bev announces that she is going to leave her sofa tonight to go to a bar in Lisbon. Eventually we move into a wiki. Instead of storing our notes in documents on eSnips and the links in our social bookmarking tool we finally have one location. Here, in the wiki, after weeks of disorientation and turmoil we mutually find a comfortable place to record our ideas. The way the wiki is organized
“Social software“ refers to the various web2.0 technologies that allow web users not only to read but to write and collaborate with others using text, images, music or video files.
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means that we have a home base where we can more easily make the connections between different ideas. The text becomes a shared enterprise of connecting fragments. The fragments can include visuals. Each page has a discussion area for a meta discussion (or not). The wiki has a feed so when someone updates it, you are notified of the changes in your feed-reader. We can include the different fragments of our lives that lie in Web pages, blogs, social bookmarks and discussion groups on one page in the wiki by embedding the feeds of the different tools in a wikipage. People from the outside interested in the topic can view our work in progress and comment or contribute to it. But still this new home is not a paper! We are still not writing a traditional literature review. It soon became clear that we are preparing two texts, not one. One text is about a literature review for an academic conference and another is now to be submitted as an ongoing collaborative work in a wiki. How to read this challenge and the action taken: There are two separate but overlapping issues that emerge in our narrative of the fragmented writing of a paper; the issue of methodology and that of new literacy practices. Methodology in this case is more than just the defining characteristics of an academic discipline, as it is central to the operation of power and knowledge in a discipline (Robin Usher, Ian Bryant & Rennie Johnston, 1997:214) and reaches into epistemology. Robin Usher et al. call for “relocating the self in research” (ibid. 216) describing how “until the emergence of so-called ‘new paradigm’ research, there was little appreciation of researchers as sense-making agents involved in developing understanding through dialogue.” He foregrounds the notion of the ‘self’ as a questioning practitioner within the research arena suggesting that
having identified the importance of seeing practices as scripted and of research as the practice of generating a convincing narrative, we can proceed to this to the idea of the self as an author. (ibid.:217)
Usher also emphasizes the centrality of writing to research practice and develops ideas about the self as a scripted and scripting agent on a trajectory of enquiry. He explores a model which attends to the dispositional and situational features of personal experience as well as to technical requirements. He uses examples to demonstrate that “scripting oneself as an affective researcher can assist one to become an effective researcher, especially in an action research/reflective practice context” (ibid. 227) and proposes the following:
The metaphor of research as the texts of personal journeys which readers as potential fellow travelers are invited to a) follow imaginatively in thought and b) possibly retrace themselves in action, offers valuable insights into how ‘real-world’ enquiries (with their frequent detours and
false trails) are actually carried out. It represents an experiential view of research, one in which ‘experiences’ are not taken as given but provisional, i.e. subject to continuing critical review by all parties. (ibid. 220)
Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln published the “Handbook of Qualitative Research” in 2000 which broke the ground for collaborative and self-reflexive methodologies made up of multiple voices. As Ellis says, these experiments opened up new spaces for relationships between rhetor and reader, researcher and audience (2002:13) and a positioning of the author as a human being:
One’s unique voicing – complete with colloquialisms, reverberations from multiple relationships, and emotional expressiveness – is honoured. In this way the reader gains a sense of the writer as a full human being. (ibid.:14)
Writing, for Ellis, does more than communicate about a subject - it also creates a relationship; it is about “performing relational theory” (ibid. 22). She suggests that enthnographic inquiry does little to generate new conceptual resources and may make intelligible otherwise alien discourses, but it rarely increments our vocabularies of social action (ibid. 23). She refers to Denzin, who claims that ethnography should be literary, present cultural and political issues, and articulate a politics of hope (2000). In a novel about methodology and autoethnography one of the characters in Ellis’ story says:
You want to be emotionally aroused and cognitively engaged. ..you want to learn something from the story and see that the characters asked questions, opened up, and explore themselves and their situation.
In the same conversation Ellis talks about her interest in the “move inward toward social change” and the use of verisimilitude and “increased self-understanding as a quicker and more successful route to social change than changing laws or to macropolitical structures, or espousing general cultural-political theories”. (2004:254) It turns out, therefore, that our methodology is to encompass narrative, identities, relationship with the reader, and issues of power. We cannot help, in that case, to turn to the work on multiliteracies. The New London Group, who wrote "Multiliteracies: literacy learning and design of social futures" (2000) relate identity to the ongoing change and reconstruction of meaning that we do in the ongoing design and redesigning of our available resources. We need multiliteracies to act out our (multilayered) identity as transformers of meaning and makers of culture. In a book about global literacies and the world-wide web Gail Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe, authors of new literacy practices, point out that the postmodern identities also generate a productive hybridity, new meanings and identities that are continually
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assembled and reassembled through language and literate exchange (2000: 288). Our paper with an accompanying wiki would be an example of such a productive hybrid. We think again of our Wiki through the words of Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwen, who focus on multimodal meaning making. Kress and Leeuwen refer to modes as crucial elements for meaning-making and part of our semiotic landscape. They are semiotic resources that allow “the simultaneous realisation of discourses and types of (inter)action. Designs then use these resources, combining semiotic modes, and selecting from the options which they make available according to the interests of a particular communication situation." (2001: 21 - 22) Kress, a member of the New London Group, distinguishes between the effect of these multiple modes of communication on social power and on semiotic power. Being able to “write back” to a text is social power whereas the notion of hypertextuality has an effect on semiotic power, and through that on social power. Changing our practice of writing has implications for semiotic and therefore social power. (Kress, 2003:5) Echoing a sentiment expressed both by Usher and Ellis, Kress also proposes that representation is always both cognitive and affective, challenging the separation in Western thinking of cognition, affect and emotion. He compares traditional reading, an “inner-directed”, contemplative activity in line with materials taken from the world with new forms of reading. Rather than knowledge being set out by the writer in a sequentially ordered way and interpreted in that order by someone in their act of reading, in the new forms of reading knowledge is not necessarily so sequential, but is shaped by the reader in the act of creating or imposing a new order. The design of our text in the wiki allows for the simultaneous realization of different discourses and types of interaction and a new order. Kress also raises the question of authorship with the affordances of new technologies, where the distinction between reader and author is not so clear and where “the” author no longer holds the gate-keeping position to the canonical knowledge of the text. (Kress, 2003:172 – 173). Focusing on the way we were supporting our writing process with different technologies, the entangled relationship between the “character of writing” and new technologies becomes more visible. When we
began this paper we shared a history of a fairly disciplined and linear collaboration mode and a practice of support with familiar Internet tools. Furthermore, we had integrated these tools well into our work routines. This paper’s focus of a literature review was quite different to previous papers we have written which reflected on our own design for learning in virtual settings (Arnold & Smith 2003, Arnold, Smith & Trayner 2006). Both these factors meant that we were confronted with fuzzy and disconnected content and process. The fuzziness of our topic was reflected in the way we developed a new technological practice after the “lost notes” episode which highlighted the limitations of our old practice. The many new tools we were using clearly offered a lot of potential support that we needed, but we lacked a shared practice of using them both individually and as a research group. Software features that cannot be integrated into a day-to-day practice remain alien, without meaning, and do not realize their full potential. Meanwhile work routines only change slowly and the alignment between routines and technologies takes time. At the same time, given the fuzziness of the topic, the temptation of trying out many tools perhaps became an evasive strategy. Arguably, we were indulging in partial and fragmented structures rather than engaging in more intensive discussions to gain structure and rigor. However, interestingly, it was yet another tool, the wiki, which acted as a turning point. After passing through a long fuzzy phase, we then found a technological practice that fitted into the individual work routines of all three of us. It bridged the gap between linear writing in a word document as paper and a hypermedial text, thus aligning old and new practices. The wiki and the conference paper as a “dual mode literature review” seemed to be a form that finally matched the content and could act as community memory focal point. This experience also links to the description by Ulrike Spieling (2005) about the way technology constantly changes the character of writing. Looking into the historical development of writing, Spieling refers to Plato (1961) who criticizes written dialogues as “dead” as they can never come alive as real dialogues. However, with the invention of print, writing was used for public discourses bringing life into written dialogues. Written dialogues have changed once more in character with web 2.0 technologies. Written dialogues in chats happen in real time, blogs can accelerate written conversations significantly and allow for networking. It still remains written language, but the written dialogues in chats or in blogs, just like discussions in our wiki about our entries of the single literature extracts, change in character again to “oral writtenness”, providing yet another channel to constitute community memory and foster learning.
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The end: is there an end?
Now with the luxury of a month’s extension and a shared practice that is gaining (momentary) coherence and stability, Bev, John, and Patricia are still confronted with the approach of their new deadline. At this point we change voice again, from speaking of ourselves as “we” to “they.” The characters John, Beverly, and Patricia come back into focus, distancing our selves in deference to a research paper. Finishing, in fact, becomes an issue for the three of them. Supported by a wiki, Skype conferences and word versions of their collaborative autoethnographic narrative on the actual writing process, they enlarge and refine both the wiki and the conference paper. In this way artifacts are created that represent shared practice as an important element of community memory. However, are these final versions of a literature review on narrative, community memory and technologies? What exactly are the results? What are the design implications for learning in virtual settings that they hoped to generate in the process of doing the literature review? And still there are so many more seminal writers to read! Calling it final also seems to stop a community conversation that has just started around the wiki. A final version in the true sense of the word seems to contradict their idea of the wiki as an invitation for an ongoing community conversation. On the other hand, they know from their study of narrative that every story needs an end – without an ending a story is incomplete and not memorable for its audience. At the same time final suggests that the existing version will no longer be changed or edited. However, the way they have constructed their wiki does not allow for closure and final wrapped-up content; the in-built RSS feeds on the tags Bev, John and Patricia use on del.icio.us and relevant blogs to circumscribe their research project will keep growing. These tag feeds will automatically enlarge and enrich the wiki, even if the three of them were to declare it final. Moreover, there is another layer of interpretations to the word final: Final in the traditional sense of the word, obeying the rules of academic conferences, would mean to withdraw the wiki and its content from public access until it has been reviewed in a double-blind process. So final in this sense would decide who can read their story and who might listen to it. The aspects of “Whose story is listened to?” and “Whose story gets told?” that came up frequently in Beverly’s, John’s and Patricia’s discussions while doing the literature review come up once again. In stretching the academic conference format and submitting a combination of a paper and a wiki they intend their work and ideas to be accessible to anyone interested in the topic. They want to tell their story and they want everybody who is interested to be able to listen to it. In sum, their research story should be open to criticism from, and refinement by, anybody out there who has access to the Internet and a soft spot for narrative, community and
technology. So instead of closing a conversation that has just begun, they think that the most authentic line of action would be to advertise their wiki, circulate it among colleagues and others potentially interested in the topic. Possibly, they should even explicitly follow up on these aspects of power relations in the questions of whose story gets told and whose story is listened to. Still the deadline is approaching and at moments it seems as if Beverly, John and Patricia are meandering rather than getting straight to the point. The deadline itself seems to play hide and seek with them – another Cheshire cat from “Alice’s Wonderland” comes up to ask questions and then disappears again, leaving all those who observe it puzzled! So, in pondering how to tackle the deadline and produce a meaningful final version that is in line with the overall direction of their inquiry, they negotiate this end: They decide to submit a final version of their autoethnographic narrative for review. It will no longer change after submittal and review. They will also submit a wiki that stays open for change, so that a reviewer could have both a final ready-toprint version of their autoethnographic narrative and a historic, dated instance of the wiki at that very moment. If nothing else, this end would keep them from digging deeper and deeper and allow them to gain fresh energy for their other projects and yet keep the conversation in the wiki going. In this way there is an end that still allows for further development and new research questions and insights to be produced.
How to read this end – or what is the moral of this research story? In their work our three human characters – not the Cheshire cat – are purposefully stretching and crossing academic genre conventions by, among other things, presenting a paper in conjunction with a wiki. The wiki will be an ongoing hypermedia text about remembering and forgetting in communities and how these processes around memory construction can be supported by collaborative web2.0 technologies. Furthermore, the wiki is an invitation for readers and reviewers to become collaborators of the text and it is a text that walks the talk as the authors remember and forget in their own community, supported by collaborative web2.0 technologies. The way the three characters in this narrative meet their challenge and solve their dilemma of finding an end of a kind can be better understood with a community of practice view on learning (Lave & Wenger 1991, Wenger 1998). Learning is deeply linked to practice and selfidentity; reification cannot be separated from participation which cannot be separated from reification. In our characters’ struggle to
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explore the relationship between narrative, community memory and technologies their attention constantly shifts from sensemaking of the vast concepts they deal with (without the props of disciplinary boundaries), to the ongoing reflection on their own practice and to connected issues of self identity. In creating a wiki and a conference paper they reify the results of their sensemaking, thus creating a core of community memory, and a basis for further participation. At the same time they engage in conversations with each other and with others interested in the topic, constantly learning but also constantly being confronted with reflexive questions of their own biographical narratives. Each of them brings in various voices from their “inner teams”; voices, sometimes conflicting, that stem from multimembership in their constellation of different communities. In the attempt to bridge various gaps between disciplines and to cross boundaries of established genres, the “reflexive project of the self” becomes one focus of their endeavor:
In the post-traditional order of modernity, and against the backdrop of new forms of mediated experience, self-identity becomes a reflexively organised endeavour. The reflexive project of the self, which consists in the sustaining of coherent, yet continuously revised, biographical narratives, takes place in the context of multiple choices as filtered through abstract systems.' (Giddens, 1991:5)
Self-identity is thus a key concept, linking narrative and community memory. This suggests that selfidentity should also be reflected in designs for learning in virtual settings in which community memory is constructed with shared narratives. It becomes evident that designs of new points of contact, both social and technical, need to provide space and time for the “reflexive project of the self” and possibly look for other ways of supporting such a project. The struggle of declaring their work as final also links to epistemological issues. Is their contribution to a conference judged to be judged on a final version of a paper or on whether or not they are keeping a conversation on the topic going? Our characters could use Richard Rorty’s argument (1979:378):
To see keeping a conversation going as a sufficient aim of philosophy ...to see wisdom as consisting in the ability to sustain a conversation, is to see human beings as generators of new descriptions rather than beings one hopes to be able to describe accurately. To see the aim of philosophy as truth — namely, the truth about the terms which provide ultimate commensuration for all human inquiries and activities — is to see human beings as objects rather than subjects. . . .
However, to use Rorty’s reasoning in the service of not finishing a conference paper would be too simple and perhaps simply wrong; published scholarly papers in academia are conceived as part of a written “conversation”, the scientific discourse on the domain at hand. A scientific article, published in a journal, normally ends with suggestions for further research. In surveying the literature, we might identify these suggestions and take them up for further research, therefore extending the conversation. However, there are two important distinctions between this written discourse and the written “conversation” that are brought into focus by web2.0 technologies. First, access to academic journals, both as author or as reader, is not distributed equally. Different sorts of power relations and social status are involved. Secondly, the time lag between the initial article and the following contribution on average is very long. This does not mean that those discourses are “dead”, as Plato characterizes written dialogues in the time before print, but the time lag can reduce “liveliness” and the possibilities of shared meaning making. Web2.0 technologies are more equally accessible (amongst those with Internet access is the qualification here). Furthermore, they enable written conversations either with short pauses for reflection or conversations in real time, shaping written language as a form of written orality, a topic to be further explored in another research endeavour. Returning to our characters’ struggle with what to submit or how much reification and how much participation would help the maximum community memory on our topic, the dual mode answer of conference paper and wiki seems appropriate in our present fragmented world. Like Bruner, who attributed his “productive career to his knack for ‘keeping the conversation going’” in an interview with Bradd Shore (1997:7), they experiment with the wiki as a virtual space to build up community memory about the domain on an ongoing basis. By handing in the autonarrative as a conference paper they hope to provide a bridge between established academic conference format, traditional scientific written discourse, and emergent new forms like the wiki . The wiki itself can act as a home for further research questions and results. What implications are here for the design of learning in virtual settings? Old and established practices do not easily give way to new practices. Also new practices, for example using web 2.0 technologies, cannot be harnessed immediately, they have to evolve over time and be brought into alignment with the community and its activities. The implications of a change in technology practice will affect both the domain and the community around it. There is a lot at stake. “Bridges” between established and new practices such as in hybrid products like this conference paper with an accompanying wiki could be helpful. How participation in a conversation can be stimulated and which forms those bridges between
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established and new practice could take, need to be elaborated in further research endeavours. Perhaps some of these issues will be the basis for a follow-up research (auto)narrative. In that sense this paper is clearly not “the end.”
We thank Ian Glasweg and his colleagues, virtual and real, for their thoughtful contribution to this article.
References Arnold, Patricia and John D. Smith (2003). Adding Connectivity and Losing Context with ICT: Contrasting Learning Situations from a Community of Practice Perspective. Communities and Technologies; Proceedings of the First International Conference on Communities and Technologies. Marleen Huysman, Etienne Wenger and Volker Wulf. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers: 465-484. Arnold, Patricia ,John D. Smith, and Beverly Trayner (2006). Narrative: Designing for Context in Virtual Settings. Managing learning in virtual settings: the role of context. Antonio Dias Figueiredo and Ana Paula Afonso. Hershey, Pa.: Information Science Publishing: 197-218. Bochner, Arthur and Ellis, Carolyn (2002). Ethnographically speaking: Autoethnography, Literature, and Aesthetics. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press. Castells, M. (1996). The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Volume II: The Power of Identity. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Cope, Bill and Kalantzis, Mary (2000). Multiliteracies: literacy learning and the design of social futures. London and New York: Routledge Deibert, Ronald.J. (1996). Parchment, Printing and Hyerpmedia: Communication in World Order Transformation. New York: Columbia University Press. Denzin, Norman and Lincoln, Yvonna (1994). Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage. Ellis, Carolyn (2004). The Ethnographic I: A Methodological Novel About Autoethnography. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Alta Mira. Foucault, Michael (1980). Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon Books (edited by Colin Gordon). Foucault, Michael (1994). Aesthetics – essential works of Foucault 1954 – 1984, Volume 2. London: Penguin Books (edited by James D. Faubion). Giddens, Anthony (1991). Modernity and Self-Identity : Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press. Hawisher, Gail and Cynthia Selfe (2000). Global Literacies and the World-Wide Web. London and New York: Routledge. Kress, Gunther. (2000) Multimodality. Multiliteracies: literacy learning and the design of social futures. Cope, Bill and Kalantzis, Mary. London & New York: Routledge. Kress, K. (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age. London & New York: Routledge. Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning. Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. McDermott, Ray. P. (1993). The acquisition of a child by a learning disability. Understanding Practice; Perspectives on activity and context. Chaiklin, Seth and Jean Lave. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 269-305. MIT Center for Organizational Learning and Reflection Learning Associates (1996). Learning History Field Manual - 10/28/96a. Cambridge, Mass.. Unpublished manuscript. Plato (1961) Collected Dialogues. New York: Bollingen Foundation. Rorty, Richard (1979). Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Oxford: Blackwell.
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Russel, Catherine (1999). Autoethnography: Journeys of the Self. Excerpt from: Experimental Ethnography Duke University Press. http://www.haussite.net/haus.0/SCRIPT/txt2001/01/russel.HTML (accessed 2006-06-30). Shore, Bradd (1997). Keeping the Conversation Going: An Interview With Jerome Bruner," Ethos 25(1):7-62. Spieling, Ulrike (2005). Interactive Digital Storytelling als eine Methode der Wissensvermittlung. Knowledge Media Design. Theorie, Methodik, Praxis. Eibl, Maximilian; Reiterer, Harald; Stephan, Peter Friedrich and Thissen, Frank. München, Wien: Oldenbourg: 249-283. Trayner, Beverly (2003). Babel in the International Café: a Respectful Critique. Communities and Technologies; Proceedings of the First International Conference on Communities and Technologies. Marleen Huysman, Etienne Wenger and Volker Wulf. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers: 407-426. Usher, Robin; Bryant Ian and Rennie Johnston (1997). Adult Education and the Postmodern Challenge: Learning Beyond the Limits. London and New York: Polity Press.
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